Looking at Darla Kirkhammer, many people assume that she is just another 26 year old. She doesn’t look sick, but her life changed when she was diagnosed with lupus at 19. The Calgary resident spent a year in and out of the hospital, as doctors struggled to keep a high fever in check. Since that time, she has learned to cope with her symptoms, from joint pain to facial rashes.

“I may look fine to people, but I don’t feel fine,” Kirkhammer says. “It’s a hidden disease that has potential severity.” She does her best to maintain a positive attitude. She won’t let lupus stop her from doing what she wants to achieve, like planning on becoming a dietitian. Eating well, managing stress and getting adequate rest help her cope and enjoy life. 

“It was scary to learn you have a chronic disease. You think your life is over.”

For Dana Muma, her lupus diagnosis was a surprise when it came also at age 19. She was attending nursing school and thought her rash and loss of appetite were stress-related. The first doctor she saw said her illness was all in her head. She knew it wasn’t. She pushed for answers. Finally, a specialist made a lupus diagnosis. 

“It was scary to learn you have a chronic disease. You think your life is over,” says Muma, now 26. As doctors fought to get her lupus under control, she had to drop out of school. Her hair fell out. The disease attacked her heart, kidneys, and bowels. Once stabilized, she was able to get her degree and a job. 

She continues to be diligent about her health – adequate rest, staying out of the sun and support from friends and family. Though the married mother of two children feels guilty about not being able to do it all, she has come to a more peaceful place about having lupus and looks to the future with optimism.